There’s been a lot of reactions (good and bad) to the American Humanist Association’s atheist bus campaign. In short, the AHA will be running the following ad on buses in the metro Washington, D.C. area:
Today, AHA’s Jesse Galef was on FOXNews discussing the ads. The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue was also there to offer a counterpoint… which included the mentions of Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Stalin. (It had to be tough for Jesse to engage in a battle of minds with an unarmed lunatic…)
Anyway, after learning about the American version of the atheist bus campaign, a few questions came to mind:
— How did this idea come about?
— Was the AHA in contact with the British Humanist Association because of the success of the BHA’s own ad campaign?
— How will the AHA gauge the success of the ads?
— Will we see “atheist buses” in other cities anytime soon?
Roy Speckhardt, the Executive Director of the AHA, was kind enough to answer those questions.
His statement to me is below:
The American Humanist Association started running paid advertisements as part of our annual program plans when Steve Goldberg and David Niose developed ideas for mass marketing in 2005. As we humanists, atheists, and freethinkers know too well, we’ve been mostly ignored by the media and the political powers that be, so paid ads were a way for us to break through that barrier. Through FreeThought Action we’ve run amazingly successful ads in a number of U.S. cities. The idea to do bus ads originated as a way to get around the billboard prohibition in the Washington DC metro area. But then, as we saw the British Humanist Association reap terrific results from a clever campaign in the UK, we wanted to shift our ad to have a similar flavor.
The American Humanist Association has come a long way in recent years and we were moving quickly to run the BHA ad before its media coverage was forgotten by reporters. However, since the BHA ads weren’t running until January they preferred we not use their wording. So our board and staff worked on a slogan that would be more fitting to the coming holiday season. The result has already far exceeded my expectations. People are coming out of the woodwork to respond to this campaign. And I’m pleased to report that we’re hearing from supporters and local group leaders about interest in rolling out the campaign in other cities. I’m optimistic that plans will soon be finalized to do just that.
I think it’s humorous that so many people of faith think they were the ones we were targeting with these ads. We’ve got millions of people to reach who are humanists but don’t know of us or care to join an organized movement. These nontheists are the real target. But if I think that bit of self-centeredness on behalf of the religious is humorous, I think it’s just hilarious that some actually find the ad offensive.
Really, the absurdity is palpable. Let me explain the situation. Some of the roughly ninety percent of our society are offended that a small organization made a tiny advertising purchase to reach out to its minority constituency? And the source of this offense is the fact that we just raised the question “Why believe in a god?” Sounds like some folks have major security issues…
The folks on Fox and Friends (who just had me on for a follow-up interview) were among those who seemed to feel this was an attack ad on Christians. Hearing their antics you can almost see what their imagining: sneaky atheists aiming to unhinge the faithful by ambushing them with magic language that will undermine their faith. But then you have to remind yourself about the source of all that unhinging — a simple question.